Do you think an active assessment where you design a toy for a specific age group could be an engaging project for students? Would this activity show an application and integration of learning? Or how about going through your daily activities wearing rubber gloves filled with unpopped popcorn kernels to replicate what is it like to deal with arthritis? Would this give you insight into the human dimension and empathy and caring about another human being? These are just two examples that a group of faculty from Central Connecticut State University added to their course redesign based on Fink’s book, Creating Significant Learning Experiences.
There were four goals that the authors of “Using Fink’s Integrated Course Design: How a Book Changed Our Students’ Learning, Our University, and Ourselves“ set out to make. You can see the impact that Fink had on this group by looking at these goals and seeing how they closely articulate his taxonomy.
(1) how Fink’s book challenged us to change our teaching in lasting ways;
(2) how we used this inspiration to assess Fink’s ideas about integrated course design (ICD) empirically in a scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) model of research;
(3) how our experiences helped to spread these ideas within our university and beyond; and
(4) how this whole experience changed us (p. 43).
This entire process took about four years from first reading Fink’s book, forming a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) group, implementing a revised course design, giving workshops, authoring journal articles, mentoring 1:1 and offering a colloquium for 50 participants. This seems like a long time to implement and promote a learning model to encourage other instructors to implement a similar process, but in a public institution, nothing moves quickly.
However, getting faculty to see the merit to taking a new approach to developing and planning a course by asking different questions, in the beginning, can grow exponentially with mentorship and sharing of ideas. The authors of the article now use these questions when planning a course:
“What do we want students to retain from this course?”
“How can we make this learning personal for the student?” and
“How can we make this a human experience that will make them care about the material?”
This is a very different approach from asking, “How can I cover the textbook material in one semester?” (p. 51).
The article outlines the changes that each of the six faculty made to their courses and identified how the new activities fit into Fink’s taxonomy. Each came up with different ideas as well as a particular focus on specific areas of the model that they felt their course was deficient.
Carolyn Fallahi in her Lifespan Development course wanted to move beyond foundation knowledge and add more application and integration. She created a series of activities around case studies based on “neglected and bullied children” that she used throughout the course (p. 45). I this the use of case students is a great way for students to apply and integrate their new knowledge, but I wonder if limiting the studies to this small targeted topic is enough variety to prepare students for a more advanced class. Perhaps I misunderstand this target group, and the case studies actually did follow this target group as they advanced in age. That would seem to cover the expanse of the courses’ intent.
Laura Levine in her Psychology of Early Childhood course and Joan Nicoll-Senft in her Instructional Planning for Students with Exceptionalities course, they both wanted students to get a better understanding for Learning how to Learn to prepare them for their future careers. Based on the complexity and wide-range of disabilities and stages of children, it is necessary for students to know how to find and evaluate reliable resources to support their decisions. Levine used a likert scale evaluation at the end of her class asking students to “rate their ability to find professional resources” which seems like an assessment that might benefit students to do at least once, if not more often throughout the course (p. 45). Levine also had her had her students create their own observational assignments and their own questions to answer when they were observing young students (p. 45). Nicoll-Senft use problem-based activities to give students practice in finding solutions through research (p. 48).
Jack Tessier in Concepts in Biology and Cheryl Watson in her Anatomy and Physciology wanted their students to think more about how their discipline fit into daily life. Tessier tied course topics to current events and asked students to identify the relevance. Watson designed her lessons with lots of repetition. She also concentrated on some simple case studies. For example, “In several learning units, she asked them to pick up a cup from the table and to build their understanding by explaining what was happening as they did so, involving first bones, then muscles, then muscle attachments, then nerves” (p. 48). Helping to identify all that is going on through the simple action of picking up an object can quickly have impact on understanding.
Rebecca Wood in her Lifespan Development course used the two the examples that I mentioned at the beginning of this review. As part of her interest in helping students expand their understanding in the Learning to Learning areas, she had students rate themselves on their library services understanding.
The end results what that they determined that by taking a holistic look at their courses, instead of just at their activities and assessments, there was significant improvement in student learning. However, the article didn’t say what the revised courses were compared against. The data provided was based on pre- and post- tests, which does not say a lot. By only comparing pre- and post- tests for any kind of teaching method would show improvement, that seems obvious (p0. 49). Another area they looked at was improvement in the caring taxonomy. The results they got weren’t dramatically improved, but they acknowledged that students in several of the courses were in health care related courses where the pretest courses were already high (p. 49-50).
The article included a table with some examples from the five topics pertaining to Fink’s six taxonomies which can be used as a reference and to help brainstorm additional ideas for similar or different disciplines. The article is pretty short and similar to the some of the other articles we’ve reviewed, hearing the experience of the six instructors and getting a glimpse of what revisions to their courses were decided upon and what choices they made.
Fallahi, C. R., Levine, L. E., Nicoll-Senft, J. M., Tessier, J. T., Watson, C. L., & Wood, R. M. (2009). Using Fink’s Integrated Course Design: How a Book Changed Our Students’ Learning, Our University, and Ourselves. New Directions For Teaching And Learning, (119), 43-52.